Mangement v. Professionalism


Dear Mark,

Just took a look at “If You’re So Smart, Why Are You under Surveillance? Universities, Neoliberalism, and New
Public Management
” by Chris Lorenz in the Spring 2012 Critical Inquiry. This may be useful as big picture stuff for us, since Lorenz offers a global narrative of the way neoliberal policy and New Public Management (NPM) has reshaped universities. I find much of this persuasive.

I wonder, however, about the opposition he establishes between management and professionalism. On these grounds:

“Professions, unlike ordinary occupations, are defined by the following characteristics:
1. Mastery of specialist theoretical knowledge. The professional has to
acquire specialist knowledge through extended education and training.
2. Autonomy and control over the work and how the work is done.
This is the most important characteristic of a profession.
3. Being motivated by intrinsic rewards and the interests of clients,
which take priority over the professional’s own interests. This, of
course, does not mean that professionals have no interests.
4. Being committed to a professional career and the objectives of the
service provided by the organization the professional works for. For
professionals their identity is mainly bound to the profession, not to
management aims geared to profit and efficiency.
5. A sense of commitment and collegiality in the professional group
and a sense of responsibility to colleagues. The professional body operates
as an internal control both for admitting people to the profession
and for maintaining professional standards.” (610-11)

Lorenz draws his contrasting definition of management, which he sees as inherently bureaucratic, from Keith Roberts and Karen Donahue, “Professing Professionalism: Bureaucratization and Deprofessionalization in the Academy,” Sociological Focus 33 (Oct. 2000): 365–83.

“First, bureaucracy expects its members to promote and represent the
interests of the organization: the professional expects the interests of
the client to be supreme. . . . Second, bureaucracy sees authority as
residing in legal contracts that are backed by legal sanctions. As utilitarian
and goal-driven formal organizations, bureaucracies focus on
contractual arrangements and formal structures. By contrast, professionals
tend to think of authority being rooted in expertise of the person
holding the position rather than in the power of the status itself.
Along these same lines, bureaucracies expect their members to comply
with directives of the organization; professionals, by contrast, expect to
be guided by the ethical standards of their field as spelled out by professional
associations. Because professionals develop a reference system focussing
on professional colleagues, they are typically more concerned
with maintaining a reputation with peers in their field than they are with
pleasing organizational superiors.” (368)

The upshot for Lorenz is:

“The formal rationalism of bureaucracies—and managerialism in the public
sector is just a modernized version of bureaucracy—is therefore incompatible
with the fundamental motives and the mindset governing the work
of professionals.” (611)

Thus, a division of labor and class warfare between the professionals and the managers.

And, stupid professors who behave as if the rise of quantitative measures within their universities have no bearing on their standing within their fields.

“Remarkably most professors, especially in the humanities, seem stuck in individualistic
ideologies that suggest a direct meritocratic connection between quality
and individual success in academia.” (625)

Where to start. The professionals, in this characterization, look like neanderthals and the managers like little Hitlers (or little Communists; there’s an interesting thread running through the essay in which current university bureaucracy resembles the Communist state). Although I’m persuaded that a good deal of management-speak is bullshit and, further, that it relies on terms of excellence and the like that are tied primarily if not exclusively to quantitative measures, I’m not sure that we are unable to discern good and bad versions of this rhetoric and the outcomes it helps produce.

I find this kind of “to the barricades” argument bracing, and that’s helpful but only goes so far. I agree with Lorenz (how could one not?) that what happens in humanities departments is not always (not usually, perhaps) amenable to quantitative measures. Some things can be counted (numbers of majors) and that tells you something. Some things cannot. But we already know this. Is the right response to recall a day when the numbers didn’t matter more than qualitative measures? Or to find ways to exploit the numbers for disciplinary cum political ends? If the latter, that sounds more managerial than professional, according to Lorenz’s definitions. But I’m tempted to call it good managerial. Good neoliberal too? Shiver.


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